(Updates with Assembly panel vote in eighth paragraph.)
Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey voters would probably pass a law allowing gay marriage in a referendum, Governor Chris Christie said today.
“The polls that I’ve seen show that if this goes to the ballot, I lose,” the Republican governor, who opposes same-sex marriage, told about 400 people at a town-hall meeting in Denville. “How much more magnanimous could I be?”
Christie, 49, has said he would veto a law permitting gay nuptials, arguing that voters should decide the issue and that he would abide by the results. The first-term governor said he would direct Republican lawmakers to support a bill that would create a November referendum. Democrats said gay marriage is a civil right that shouldn’t be subject to a popular vote. The Senate president said today there won’t be a referendum.
The governor drew criticism from Democrats, including U.S. Representative John Lewis of Georgia, for saying to reporters on Jan. 24 that civil-rights backers of the 1960s would have been happy with a referendum “rather than fighting and dying in the streets of the South.” He apologized for those comments in a Jan. 30 radio appearance.
Christie said he wouldn’t apologize for using the term “numbnuts” to describe critics, including Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a gay Democrat representing Trenton, who compared the governor to segregationists because of his civil-rights comments.
Court rulings or legislation led to the change in the District of Columbia and the six states where it’s already legal -- including neighboring New York. Voters have rejected legalization in all 31 referendums on the question, according to Freedom to Marry, a New York-based national advocacy organization.
Washington’s Senate yesterday passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, and Governor Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, has said she’ll sign it.
In New Jersey, the Assembly Judiciary Committee voted 5-2 today to advance the measure for a vote in the full chamber
Democrats have about 34 Assembly votes of the 41 needed to pass the measure and “are picking up more every minute,” said Gusciora, a co-sponsor.
The bill needs 21 Senate votes to move to Christie’s desk. Senate Democrats have scheduled a Feb. 13 vote by the chamber and have the votes to pass the measure, Derek Roseman, a spokesman for Senate President Stephen Sweeney, said in an e- mail.
Sweeney, in a statement today, said Christie and some of his colleagues could learn from Washington, where four Republican senators yesterday voted for gay marriage.
“When the Senate votes on this issue on Feb. 13, it will be a very simple choice; you either support marriage equality, or you don’t,” Sweeney said. “There is no third option.”
Republicans have “thus far walked in lockstep with his direction,” said Assemblyman John McKeon, a Democratic member of the panel and a bill sponsor, referring to Christie.
“The governor needs to release members to vote their conscience,” Gusciora said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Democrats, who control the Senate and Assembly, have made same-sex marriage a 2012 priority. Two years ago, they failed to pass a bill permitting the practice and supported by then- Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat.
Corzine enacted a measure in 2006 to allow civil unions, after the state’s high court ordered lawmakers to extend marital rights to same-sex couples. The law is being challenged in court by Lambda Legal, a national advocacy group that says unions don’t provide marriage’s benefits and protections.
McKeon, who represents West Orange, said Democrats are proceeding, even though they know Christie will veto it.
“If a majority of the Legislature votes for it, that might in some way impact the Supreme Court when they look at this issue,” he said. “This is not a religious issue, it’s a matter of civil rights. It’s the right thing to do.”
Madison Galluccio, the 15-year-old daughter of Jon and Michael Galluccio, tearfully urged lawmakers today to allow her parents, who wed in another state, to have the benefits of marriage in their North Haledon home.
“I want to be able to have the same rights as you,” Madison Galluccio said at the Judiciary Committee meeting.
The Galluccios were lead plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against New Jersey for not allowing gay couples to jointly adopt children. Though the state in 1997 became the first in the nation to allow the practice, it has failed to lead in the matter of marriage, said Jon Galluccio.
Public support for gay marriage in New Jersey reached a high of 52 percent in a poll by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, that was released Jan. 19.
“If a majority of people want it, prove it,” Christie said. “Let them vote on it. They’ll get in the privacy of the voting booth and make their choice.”
A constitutional amendment, which Christie is proposing, would need to be approved by three-fifths of the Legislature to appear on the November ballot, and would then require support from a simple majority of voters for passage. Republicans account for two-fifths of the Legislature.
“All they need is to get one-fifth,” Christie said of Democrats. “This is the bargain of a lifetime.”
--With assistance from Stacie Servetah in Trenton. Editors: Stephen Merelman, Mark Tannenbaum
To contact the reporters on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at firstname.lastname@example.org; Stacie Servetah in Trenton at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org